Wednesday, January 17, 2018


This is a nondescript post really. I have been on holiday since last Thursday, but not been very far as I have been keeping our new arrival happy and getting her used to life in darkest Northumberland. Meet Peggy, a Patterdale x Lakeland cross, 4 yrs old ( or so they tell us) and a refugee for Darlington Dogs Trust. Peggy only arrived at the trust a week past Saturday and we collected her on the following Tuesday. She is a timid little thing and was in need of a loving home, so as we had a terrier sized hole to fill, we thought she would fit the bill...

Other than that, the other highlight of the week, was this -

... Snow! We haven't had lying snow here for at least 3 years, so this was a bit of a novelty. We do get snow a short way inland, but on the coast it is a real rarity these days.

This morning's walk uncovered a very small hard weather movement of 8 Fieldfares, 90 Golden Plover, 1 Mistle Thrush and 3 Meadow Pipits all S along our coast path. This afternoon a short look along the village lane had a nice flock of birds in a small, low-yield, corn crop stubble - 250+ Linnets, 32+ Stock Doves and a male Sparrowhawk.

But, its back to work tomorrow and Friday where the day is spent wishing for lighter nights...

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Fowl play...

Out this morning down the coast with JWR. We checked Amble braid and harbour and Hadston T junction with little to show.

A flock of 200+ Pink footed Geese next to the road at Hauxley held a single neck collared bird - Silver or Grey UBB. Don't those collars look bloody awful, but they are very effective, being easy to see and then to read with the scope.

A stop at Widdrington Moor Lake was quite productive with a large female Peregrine sitting on the same rock as a bird we watched last year at this time. She looked around casually, probably deciding whether to try duck or lapwing. Also here were 2 Great Northern Divers at the eastern end of the lake, a drake Pochard, seemingly rarer than the divers lately, 3 Goldeneye and a few commoner ducks.

Breakfast was calling so a detour via the Drift Cafe for a full Veggie offering was a fine set up for the rest of the morning.

We moved back up to Druridge Budge Fields to look for Water Pipit. On route a female Merlin dashed through Bell's Links, S.

In the freezing cold steel observation screen at the Budge Fields there were good numbers of wildfowl to scan through - 100+ Teal, 400+ Wigeon, Mallard, 10+ Shoveler and a nice drake Pintail.
While counting Teal, on the hunt for a Green-winged, all of the Wigeon flew off the bank into some water between dense juncus. I put the scope on them and was straight onto an 'American' Wigeon. It was swimming hard left toward vegetation, so I got John onto it, then it vanished into the cover.

A further half an hour plus passed by without a sign then all birds flew out again. This time John picked it up at half the distance. This time we could get a better view in a well lit position. As it fed, it was soon obvious that all was not quite right here. The bird's supposedly green eye band was actually a nice bronze colour mainly at the back. The body was a nice brick pink but had a lot more grey wash on it than it should too. I wondered if it could be a trick of the light as it looked good in the first view.

I discussed it with others in the screen, in particular Jonathan and Tariq Farooqi who were now also of the opinion our bird was showing a few too many Eurasian Wigeon features to be a pure American Wigeon. We took a phone scoped shot or two that confirmed our fears. Our new yank was indeed only half way there. An American Wigeon hybrid. Oh well you cant win them all, it was an education and it did get the adrenaline flowing when first seen....

Check here, in particular the Cley bird in 2015.....

Also here were 1 or even 2 Water Pipits and 1 Little Egret.

A phone scoped effort and below, my notebook. Sketched on site coloured back home.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

A sunny day.

And what better than to head down to the coast before first light to see what is around as the sun rises.
I met John at Boulmer first thing. As we scanned from the car park there were plenty of birds to see - a Pale Bellied Brent Goose swam with a couple of Shelducks and there were loads of gulls milling about. We hoped that last week's Ros's might drop by, but it didnt, nor did the highly unseasonal Whimbrel seen the other day by Ben on the pool behind the pub ( Bull's Mere).

As the sun rose, good numbers of divers began moving around and soon we had logged 43 Red throated Divers N and 3 Great Northerns in with them. As they headed north, a steady movement of Pink footed Geese went south totalling 180. Also moving at sea were 4 Goldeneye, 6 Common and 1 Velvet Scoter with good numbers of auks.

In the flooded field were 70+ Lapwing and more gulls.

We wandered along to Longhoughton Steel where the newly exposed shore held lots of waders including 18+ Bar tailed Godwit, 251 Curlew, 600+ Golden and 5 Grey Plover, 13 Purple Sandpipers, 20+ Turnstone, 17 Knot, 100+ Dunlin and 66 Sanderling.

A male Peregrine almost caught a Lapwing over the sea but lacked the stamina.

A few ducks were around including 30 Wigeon, 40 Mallard and 10 Shelduck but 3 Gadwall in-off were more surprising.

The only passerines noted were 2 Stonechat, 10 Pied Wagtail, 2 Rock Pipit and about 6 Song Thrushes.

After tea and a scone we had a look up to High Newton where we walked across the fields to Football Hole and back by the Tin Church.

A local told us he had seen two Short eared Owls here this morning but we couldnt find them. Apart from the lovely sunshine and sea views the best we had were 24 Goldeneye, 100+ Golden Plover, 4+ Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Treecreeper and Goldcrest.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The moon rose over the arctic...

Picture it. It is 31st December 2017, New Year's Eve, 3.30pm.

Up here, it gets dark early at this time of year, around 4.15pm.

All birders across the land are posting a hootenanny of the years birding highlights across all social media platforms. There are pictures of Rock Thrushes, Yellow Warbler, Orphean Warbler and Needletail. Everyone tucked up at home awaiting the nights revelry, reviewing the best birds 2017 had to offer.

All I had to do was discuss the splitting of Isabelline Shrike into god knows what on our county WhatsApp group, when I saw a cryptic message appear from Tom Cadwallender saying 'I'll be there soon Ben' or something similar. I shrugged and thought Tom had posted on the wrong channel, then carried on. 

I automatically flicked to our 'Rare Birds' channel and was floored. While we were sitting in front of a warm fire, Ben Steele was out in a gale watching gulls roosting on the rocks at Longhoughton Steel near Boulmer. A good job he was too, because in with hundreds of Black headed, Common and Herring Gulls was a little snowflake from the far North, a Ross's Gull, the first to visit our shores since 2014! [ well, after Ross Ahmed's untwitchable sighting at Lindisfarne the other week, indeed this might be the same bird]

I raced along in the car, a 10 minute journey from home, then ran the half a mile north to the spot. When I say 'ran' it was more like jogged, strode, choked, gagged, coughed and walked.

On arrival Ben, Tom and Mu had taken their eyes off the ball and our arctic rose was concealed in a mass of white sleeping birds.  The large full moon rose over the sea and I was getting a bit fidgety. A few others arrived then Farooqi jnr called 'There it is, flying'. No need to panic as it only flew 10 yards then dropped into the pack. At least we now had its location.

In the ever dimming light of 2017, the 7 lucky birders who either live close enough or were birding near enough to Boulmer managed views that varied from ok and reasonable to down right shocking, but when its a new bird for my Northumberland  list, I cared little... this enigma of the ice is one of my very favourite birds, even giving the outstanding Wryneck a run for its money. So my third ever Ross's Gull and a welcome county grip-back.
Unfortunately it was gone by dawn on New Years Day and not seen again... but...

remember people, it is still out there somewhere...

Sunset on New Years Day and some disappointed twitchers, 24 hours too late.

Ross's Gull, adult winter, Longhoughton Steel, Boulmer.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018


You might think I have just abandoned the blog over recent weeks, but I just wasn't that interested.

Christmas has been a dreadful time for us.

Back in September our lovely Bunty had a small lesion on her eyebrow. After several visits to the vet and more lesions cropping up on her, some biopsies taken in November found that she had lymphoma, a type of cancer, and there was nothing we could do.

After battling with her illness for several weeks, our little raggy dog finally succumbed on 23rd December. We are now finding recovery very difficult indeed. She was our life. Even writing this is proving to be a task.

Anyway, I will leave you with a few pictures of how we remember her, as a firey little bundle of laughs. The next doggy to live here has some big shoes to fill...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Another type of Christmas Red breast....

On Sunday, a,near adult or adult Red breasted Goose turned up with the Pinkfeet in Druridge Bay, near Hemscott Hill Farm.

I assumed it to be the bird that has frequented Big Waters, near Newcastle, since the autumn, but, now that it 'looked wild' I thought I would have a look, for insurance purposes you understand.

The bird at Big Waters was originally with some Greylags, and looked nothing like being wild, so I didnt bother with it. As Sunday progressed, word came out that this might be a different individual. Also fanning the flame, apparently there was a dark bellied Brent and a Barnacle Goose with it, so it could end up being accepted by BBRC. Mmmm...

Monday morning before work was lovely and sunny with a light ground frost as I pulled into the Drift Cafe car park, at Cresswell. The Red breasted Goose was feeding only a hundred yards away behind the cafe, with some vigilant Pinkfeet and, sure enough, a Dark bellied Brent and a Barnacle Goose were near by.

I set up my scope to grill the bird. What a real stunner it was, a harlequin, bedecked in black, white and chestnut, shorter than the Pinkfeet with a smaller bill too. Possibly one of the smartest of the whole wildfowl crew.

Then the bomb dropped. As it wandered around, I noticed it was wearing the trappings of captivity in the form of a blue/grey closed ring on its left leg. It was just a fine band, and on a black leg it would be impossible to see at range, but here, at scope filling range, there was no doubt, our bird was a fence -hopper!

Oh well, never mind, one day we might get a real one...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Freezing Nutcrackers.

This morning was a proper cold day, the likes of which we have not seen for at least 3 years and possibly a lot longer. It was -6 degrees until 9am, and this morning was no warmer than -1 by lunchtime. At least it was sunny and calm, a grand winters day to be out.

Our first stop was East Chevington where 80% of the north pool was frozen solid. In the open areas, only kept ice free by the wildfowl swimming around were 34 Whooper Swans, 49 Goldeneye, 2 Long tailed Ducks, the Great Northern Diver, 11 Little Grebes and a lot of other assorted commoner wildfowl. Two Water Rails squealed from the reeds closest to us.

Down to the burn mouth where 35 Twite, 8+ Pied Wagtail , 10 Sanderling fed on the beach and a Stonechat was nearby. 4 Bullfinches fed in a lovely frosty, berry laden sea buckthorn.

Sea Buckthorn
Time to get warmed up, so it was off to the Drift Cafe at Cresswell for breakfast.

On the way, a field at Druridge was full of Golden Plover near the road, They looked really smart in the frosted grass but the camera was in the car boot...

As we drove past Cresswell pond, it was frozen solid with all of the wildfowl looking lost standing on the ice. Teal appeared the most abundant with maybe 200+ birds present.

After a grand, full veggie breakfast we headed off to Morpeth for a look at the Hawfinches at Abbey Mill.

We saw one bird as soon as we arrived sitting atop a lone bare tree looking like a giant amongst a flock of about 30 Siskins.

Above - Hawfinches.

For the next hour we were treated to lots of brief views of both male and female birds flying and perched. We must have seen at least half a dozen though only 3 together at once. The metallic 'Chiznk' calls were heard as they took flight over the trees. One female showed very well munching on the hornbeam keys for about 15 minutes.

It is a pleasure to meet up with these birds again after such a long absence. Those of us long enough in the tooth can remember that Hawfinch was an annual delectation at places like Hulne Park, Hexham and Wallington Hall back in the 80s/ early 90s with flocks up to 35 strong at Hulne where I've seen them courtship feeding in yews down to only a few feet. I have been lucky enough to see them at those sites just mentioned but also at Bothal, Sandhoe, Stobswood and Howick over the years. It would be great if that could happen again, they're fantastic birds.